Thinking about Harmon

Based on the courageous comments from Harmon Killebrew regarding the end of his fight with esophageal cancer, we can assume that it is just a matter of weeks, or perhaps even days, before we lose him entirely. This is sad news for any baseball fan, but especially for those who have had the pleasure of meeting a most gracious man.

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During my years at the Hall of Fame, I must have talked to Harmon three or four times. Two words describe him succinctly and accurately: consummate gentleman. Always soft-spoken and considerate with those who approached him in Cooperstown, Killebrew would rarely say anything remotely controversial and never make a derogatory remark about anyone. I suppose that made him a boring interview, but it spoke volumes about the man’s character. He just didn’t have it in him to be mean, or critical, in any way.

Not surprisingly, Harmon was never thrown out of a game during his career. He never threw his helmet in anger. If he had a temper, it was never evident, either on the ballfield or in the clubhouse. He was this kind of guy: If someone had tried to attack him with a knife, Harmon would have thanked him for being kind enough to lend him a kitchen utensil.

My favorite card of Killebrew is his 1973 Topps issue, shown here. Unlike most card photos that show hitters at the plate, this card give us a different perspective because we see the catcher in full view. From this angle, the Cleveland Indians’ catcher (I believe it’s backup receiver Jerry Moses) appears to be so close to Killebrew that he’d be charged with catcher’s interference if “Killer” took a swing at the next pitch.

It’s a great shot of Killebrew, too. He looks so balanced, so firmly entrenched in the batter’s box with those tree-trunk legs, that it would take a forklift to move him off the plate. He looks much bigger, and far more powerful, than his listed dimensions of 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds would indicate.

When I first learned about Killebrew as a young fan in the early 1970s, I was captivated by his name. Harmon Killebrew. That just seemed like a great name, especially for a slugger. Given his power and his build, I had always assumed that Killebrew was a tough, nasty ogre of a guy. With that name, and given the way that he crushed fastballs, I just figured that he had to be.

I could not have been more wrong. Just ask any Hall of Fame employee who ever encountered him, ever had a chance to talk to him. Like me, they’ll all miss seeing him at Induction Weekend.

I don’t know how much longer Harmon Killebrew has. What I do know is this: for 74 years, he’s made people feel better, just by being around him.

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Comments

  1. Albie Jarvis said...

    I have to admit. Growing up, I was not a big Harmon Killebrew fan. The Impossible Dream year of 1967 is still a pivotal year in my life. I was a kid – and a Red Sox fan. But that year turned me from just a fan into a diehard fan. The kind that is a foundation of Red Sox Nation. Now in ’67, the Red Sox and Twins were rivals (you can add in the Tigers too). I will always remember the slugger Harmon Killebrew battling Carl Yastrzemski in AL HR race. Killebrew and Yaz ended up tying for home runs but the Triple Crown belonged to Yaz. Fast forward to a few years ago. I was at Spring Training in Ft. Myers. The Twins were on the road that day but I decided to go over to their park to watch minor leaguers. The main stadium’s gates were open so I went in to walk around. And who is sitting in a chair next to the dugout – in full uniform – but Harmon Killebrew. Now picture – there is nothing happening on the field. But there’s Harmon talking about baseball with a small audience of fans. You could feel how he just loved the game and talking about it. And that Harmon enjoyed conversing with fans who felt the same way. The conversation reminded me of how I became a life-long fan in the first place. From that day forward, I became a huge Harmon Killebrew fan.

  2. GARY BRYANT said...

    Just see him on Homerun Derby the way he conducts himself!  The perfect gentleman always heaping praise on his opponents, him and the late Jackie Jensen ro me were very similar.  I as a kid was always a fan of his.  When he came to bat I knew he was special and he still is.  I hope we do not lose him!  I send him Best Wishes and my deep concern for him and his health!

  3. Jim C said...

    I grew up in Wash. DC in the 50’s and he was one of my first heroes as a ballplayer. I had the opportunity to meet him a few times long after he retired and he was, as you say, a consummate gentleman. He could not have been nicer, or more appreciative of the attention of his fans. I have a ball with Harmon’s and Frank Howard’s autographs on it. It is one of my proudest possessions.

  4. Mike said...

    As a kid growing up in Bloomington, just a few blocks from the Met, my family used to sit out on the back porch together and listen to Halsey Hall and Herb Carneal tell us what was going on inside the ballpark But when the Killer hit one out, the only thing you could hear was the roar of the crowd. Sometimes it seemed louder than the sonic boom of the jets flying overhead to and from the airport down the road. Of course Harmon was more than just a homerun hitter. He was a quiet leader who made people around him—like Zoilo, Oliva, even Allison and Mudcat—better ballplayers, but more importantly better men. It was like a family back then. My brother lost his fight to cancer three months ago, and now it appears that Harmon is losing his, too. I know he is not officially family, but it is the wonder of Harmon Killebrew that he makes you feel like he is. Thank-you, Harmon. Godspeed. And if you ever feel the urge to do one less-than-nice thing {doubtful,} if you see Calvin, tell him he never should have fired Billy Martin.

  5. Robbe C. Wilson, OK said...

    I grew up in Northern California—I’m a Cubs Fan, but I remember Harmon Killebrew and I am sorry he is so ill.  We just don’t have enough men like him in baseball-or any other sport-now days! I will pray for him. (I’m 65 yrs old, so I grew up with names like Harmon Killibrew.) May he have comfort during this time.

  6. David said...

    I hope you’ll indulge me sharing a memory of Harmon.

    My wife and I attended a (free) speaking engagement he gave in a local Catholic church last year in St. Peter, MN, with about 300 people in the audience.  He was slated to talk for an hour, so, of course, he went about 15 minutes over.  Then, he signed autographs for the next hour and a half.  This is not because people were bringing too much stuff (there was a limit of one item per person), but because he insisted on talking to everyone and asking about their personal lives.  My wife and I each had something – a “Twins Fan Parking Only” sign for ourselves (my wife is a Twins fan, I a Brewers fan), and a Twins pennant for her dad – a baby-boomer Twins fan.  I really wanted something for my dad, and as we were among the last in line, I called him on the phone.  When we got to the front of the line, I asked if Harmon wouldn’t mind saying “hello.”  I told him he absolutely could decline, but he thought it would be fun.  I hadn’t told my dad who it was, merely that someone famous wanted to talk to him.  I’ll never forget Harmon saying, “Hi, Bob!  This is Harmon Killebrew.”  It was a great moment, and even the people around us in line laughed.  The man just exuded joy, and it is too, too bad he has to go.  He will be sorely missed.  And in our household, he will always be remembered for his kindness.

  7. Steve Kay said...

    An ICONIC figure from the childhoods of all men my age who grew up in the sixties.  THE KILLER AND YAZ, THE MICK, GIBSON, DRYSDALE…  man, those were the days.  We will miss you, Harmon… THE NATION TURNS IT’S LONELY EYES TO YOU, AS WELL.
    RIP.  – a die hard red sox fan.

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